European Political Thought, 1815-1989

By Spencer M. Di Scala; Salvo Mastellone | Go to book overview

6
LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

In France, after the fall of the Second Empire, the establishment of the Third Republic, and the Paris Commune ( 1870-1871), liberal receptivity toward radical democratic ideals increased. French liberals discussed the desirability of basing governments on a majority consensus, meeting the needs of lower-class citizens, guaranteeing freedom of association and expression, and instituting a graduated income tax. The major reason for this change was that liberals hoped to avoid a repetition of the Commune, a bloody experiment in which the lower classes had attempted a radical social revolution. They began to favor governments supportive of reform, of social legislation favorable to workers, and of a fiscal program that would be fair to all classes.

Charles Renouvier was a republican writer famous for an 1848 pamphlet advocating as much equality as possible without depriving citizens of their rights (the Manuel républicain de l'homme et du citoyen [Republican Handbook of Man and the Citizen]). He had dropped out of politics during Napoleon III's reign but became prominent once again in 1872 as editor of a political journal, La critique philosophique, politique, scientifique, littéraire [Philosophical, Political, Scientific, and Literary Criticism]. Although he believed in a philosophy of revolution, he condemned violence because insurrections produce dictatorships that prolong themselves indefinitely in the name of an ideal. According to Renouvier, democratic radicals must harmonize the legislation of the Third Republic with the principles of 1789. Renouvier became the theoretician of a "democratic state"--a political system open to lower-class aspirations and new scientific tendencies. This system would be brought about by the alliance of the middle class with the proletariat to combat both dictatorship and clericalism. Renouvier inspired a new radical group that organized itself in the French Parliament after 1876. The French democratic radicals resembled British liberal democrats. Among the adherents of the

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